Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Tag: speculative fiction

Quick ARC Reviews – November 2022

If This Book Exists, You’re In The Wrong Universe, by Jason Pargin.

This is the fourth book in the John Dies at the End series. All the other books in the series were written under Pargin's pen name David Wong, who is also the main character of the stories. 

Like the three other books in this series, this book can be read as a standalone. Reading the other books in the series, in order or not, won’t help with that feeling of “what the … am I reading here?” It's a bonkers wild ride with aliens and magical soy sauce and parasites and a magical egg that demands human sacrifices and ...

In other words, a novel where you have to trust that the author knows what they were doing and go with the flow. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


The Conductors (Murder and Magic book 1) by Nicole Glover, published 02 March 2021.

I liked the idea of the story, Underground Railroad conductors turned detectives, and there is magic involved. Sadly, I didn’t like the way the story was told. 

Too many characters are introduced at the beginning of the story and they all lacked backstory, so keeping up with who was who was difficult. 

The magic system is not well explained. It’s not clear what makes a magic holder and how exactly the magic works. All I understood was that constellations are used as sigils and those make up a spell. 

The mystery is interesting, but since there was too much telling, via dialogue between the two main characters Hetty and Benjy, it was not very engaging. 

This speculative fiction woven into a historical fiction story was not for me. Still, I am hoping the next books in the series are better. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles


The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt, published 11 October 2022.

This is the story of that quirky side-character who seems to always stumble into situations without ever having had the ambition to be a hero. Alas, he's about to become the hero he never wanted to be and here is his story. 

There is a thousand year old space ship about to be sucked into a supernova. Sean Wren, refugee, criminal, linguist, and FTL pilot, and two other felons are offered a pardon when they rescue important data about the Philosopher's Stone from the space ship before it goes up in flames. What's supposed to be a quick job soon turns into alien encounters, sociopolitical debates and a rather predictable outcome. 

I liked the short chapters and the chapter titles. I did not enjoy the 600+ pages of the book. The story could have been told in half the page-count. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles


Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree, first published 22 February 2022, US publication 10 November 2022.

TheMarquessMagpie wrote a wonderful review about this book earlier this year. You can find it here. I agree wholeheartedly. 

This book is like a hot mug of coffee and a warm cinnamon roll on a blustery autumn day. Simply delicious, heart-warming soul-food. 

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Half-thought through

Ruthanna Emrys’ A Half-Built Garden was published 26 July 2022. The blurb for the book reads as follows:

On a warm March night in 2083, Judy Wallach-Stevens wakes to a warning of unknown pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay. She heads out to check what she expects to be a false alarm--and stumbles upon the first alien visitors to Earth. These aliens have crossed the galaxy to save humanity, convinced that the people of Earth must leave their ecologically-ravaged planet behind and join them among the stars. And if humanity doesn't agree, they may need to be saved by force.

The watershed networks aren't ready to give up on Earth. Decades ago, they rose up to exile the last corporations to a few artificial islands, escape the dominance of nation-states, and reorganize humanity around the hope of keeping their world liveable. By sharing the burden of decision-making, they've started to heal the wounded planet.

But now corporations, nation-states, and networks all vie to represent humanity to these powerful new beings, and if any one accepts the aliens' offer, Earth may be lost. With everyone’s eyes turned skyward, everything hinges on the success of Judy's effort to create understanding, both within and beyond her own species.

Given the plot takes place roughly sixty years from now the most alien thing about the whole story was the humans. First off, in sixty years time? Really? That’s bloody soon. Major things must have happened for people on Earth to turn course and it must have happened within the next twenty to thirty years. What happened?

The corporations, who according to their own statements have ruled Earth for over a hundred years, have been banned to artificial islands in the South Pacific. Their Hunger-Games-District-One-like behaviour has brought them to a point where, apart from piling on money, gender-fluid representation seems more important than anything else.

Admirably, eco-friendly networks in North America are trying to save the planet by living very down to earth, reducing and even negating their carbon footprints. These eco-friendly people live in co-parenting, gender-fluid/transsexual households and are interconnected through dandelion networks that help them make democratic decisions. The networks seem to be based on how Reddit threads work.

The aliens, called Ringers, have been searching the galaxy for other sentient species that they can save from extinction. Earth is the first planet they arrive at in time to do so. The Ringers have been studying humans from radio and television broadcasts they received over the last 200 years. Hence the Ringers speak English fluently and have a broad understanding of how Western human culture works. They want to incorporate humanity into their system of symbiotic living on dyson sphere space stations light years from our solar system.

People from the dandelion networks make first contact with the Ringers. They don’t want to leave the planet. The US government wants a chance to expand into space. And the corporations hope for new technology and ways to make money. Now the Earthlings, made up of the three factions, need to try to ‘persuade’ each other and the Ringers what would be the best course of action.

Gender dynamics and parenting are topics that caused this book to be compared to the works of Ursula K. LeGuin and Becky Chambers. Yet, Chambers and LeGuin manage to interweave those topics into their stories in a far more engaging way than Emrys does. She intersperses the fairly interesting basis of her story with breastfeeding, pronoun badges, discussions about parenting, gender fluidity and non-binary gender pronouns, alien tentacle threesomes, and a few discussions about who of the three human groups might be right, and of course a few squabbles amongst the different Ringer factions.

I had expected to read a book about first contact, about aliens and how they live, about what makes Earth and it’s inhabitants important to preserve despite the problems the planet and humanity face.

What I actually read was a book centred on parenting and gender pronouns; democratic eco-friendly co-parenting versus corporations on artificial islands that are hiding their children and need five different gender pronouns depending on what kind of clothes they wear. Oh, yes, and there were aliens that looked like lizards and spiders and lived in symbiosis and had rather organic technology.

What rankled me further, there wasn’t any global representation; humanity is not just dandelion networks, the US government and some corporations in the South Pacific. Also, and this was mentioned briefly by the main character, Earth is made up of more than just humans, but the book centred on humans and their survival only.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

The Measure

The Measure by Nikki Erlick, published 28 June 2022.

Boxes arrive, for any person on earth older than 22 years. The boxes contain a piece of string, showing how long the life of the person will be.

What would you do if you received such a box? Would you open it? Do you want to know how many years you have? How does society deal with this phenomenon? Are people with short strings worth less than “long stringers”?

Told from several different POV the stories are interwoven and make up a fantastic book of speculative fiction!

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews – June 2022

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, published 28 September 2021.

This was weird, but in a good way weird. A hopeful story about identity and finding your place in the world, or should I say universe? 

A deal with the devil leads former violin prodigy turned violin teacher, Shizuka, to seek her latest young music genius in San Francisco. Katrina is a runaway recently arrived in the city whose most priced possession is a cheap Chinese violin. Shizuka has a year to turn Katrina into a star violinist and so lift the curse on her soul. There is absolutely no time for anything else in her life, but then she meets Lan Tran. She's a mother of four, and her family of galactic refugees is selling donuts while secretly creating a stargate on the roof of their donut shop.

5/5 Harpy Eagles


January Fifteenth by Rachel Swirsky, published 14 June 2021.

The near-future Sci-Fi novella follows four women on the day when the Universal Basic Income (UBI) is paid by the government to the citizens of the U.S. 

The author prefaces the novella that she won't go into how the UBI came about and/or how it is organised. 

I assumed the story was about how the UBI shapes and influences the four women's lives, but somehow this was only lightly touched on. In the end it was speculative fiction depicting one day in the lives of a divorced mother of two who's escaped an abusive relationship; a rich college girl bored at her privileged party in Aspen; a jaded reporter taking care of her transgender teenage sibling; a pregnant teenaged member of a polygamist cult.

Interesting, but I was hoping for more depth.

2/5 Harpy Eagles


Amongst our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch, published 12 April 2022.

I am a fan of the Rivers of London series and I re-read part of the series and caught up with the ones I hadn't read yet to enjoy this ninth instalment. Yet, somehow I am left a bit wanting. 

I wanted to see more Nightingale, more banter between Master and Apprentice. Nightingale is a great character and the more domestic Peter became during this book, the more Nightingale could have taken the limelight. 

Dear Mr Aaronovitch, please give Thomas more page space next time around. Also, let us know what happened to the rings. Thank you!  

3.5/5 Harpy Eagles


A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne, published 03 October 2017.

I am not a fan of epic fantasy. Mainly because I like to know where the journey is going and epic fantasy, to me, is more like taking the extra scenic route that doesn't end in the destination but at a way point from which you then carry on (in the next book). 

Hearne's first novel in the Seven Kennings series is no exception. There are many stories within the framing story. Following all those different characters to the end to find out how those different plot lines lined up was tough, for me (see above). 

I felt interested enough to see it through to the end of the book, but I won't read the other novels in the series. I am going to stick to Hearne's Urban Fantasy. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

If you liked Murderbot

TheHatchling#1 (aka my son) re-re-…-re-read the Murderbot series so many times, since he just couldn’t find anything that kept his interest, that I was actually very happy when he read and liked Six Wakes and then alerted me to the Indranan War series after he had read the first chapter that was printed as a teaser at the end of Six Wakes. We decided to do a buddy-read, which ended with TheHatchling#1 reading all three books and then nagging me to get started already since he wanted to discuss.

Since we want to avoid any spoilers we’re only reviewing the first book in the series, Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers, published 02 August, 2016.

The blurb:

Meet Hail: Captain. Gunrunner. Fugitive.

Quick, sarcastic, and lethal, Hailimi Bristol doesn't suffer fools gladly. She has made a name for herself in the galaxy for everything except what she was born to do: rule the Indranan Empire. That is, until two Trackers drag her back to her home planet to take her rightful place as the only remaining heir.

But trading her ship for a palace has more dangers than Hail could have anticipated. Caught in a web of plots and assassination attempts, Hail can't do the one thing she did twenty years ago: run away. She'll have to figure out who murdered her sisters if she wants to survive.

A gun smuggler inherits the throne in this Star Wars-style science fiction adventure from debut author K. B. Wagers. Full of action-packed space opera exploits and courtly conspiracy - not to mention an all-out galactic war - Behind the Throne will please fans of James S. A Corey, Becky Chambers and Lois McMaster Bujold, or anyone who wonders what would happen if a rogue like Han Solo were handed the keys to an empire . . .

The blurb is partly spot on, partly misleading. Yes, Hail is a sarcastic princess-turned-pirate/smuggler who’s been forcefully returned to her home planet, because someone is killing off the members of her family, the royal family. She’s the only direct heir to the Indranan throne left alive and is struggling to stay breathing with assassination attempts from all sides. Although it is more a story of “courtly conspiracy” rather than action packed space opera, the novel is intriguing, and thanks to assassinations, scandals and betrayals there is never a dull moment.

Hail left her home twenty years ago to hunt down her father’s killers. She embraced the life outside the confines of an empirical princess’ life so much that she became a gunrunner and furthermore captain of her own ship. When she’s dragged back into the palace, she not only has to confront her now ailing mother, whom she has had a troubled relationship with, but also cope with her grief for her sisters’ deaths and come to terms with her new role. Moreover, she learns about the role her long-time companion/lover played without being able to reconcile with him.

As mentioned above, the people behind the murders of her family are also plotting to kill her, which turns out not to be as easy as the plotters thought it would be. Hail swears to uncover the conspiracy and bring the culprits to justice.

What we really liked about this book and the following two books in the trilogy: The Indranan Empire is a matriarchal empire built on Hindu/Indian culture and mythology. It has been matriarchal for more than a thousand years which is obvious down to the swearing, Hail calls people out on their “cowshit” several times.

What this book is not: It’s not a Star Wars-style SF adventure/space opera. It’s more Urban Fantasy set in an SF environment; taking place in a solar system far from our current one, there are space ships and futuristic technology, and there are alien races. There are no epic space battles, we hardly see the inside of a spaceship, and Hail is definitely not a female Han Solo. Whoever came up with that comparison might not have read the book they were writing the blurb for.

The writing: It is a character driven story told from the first person POV, Hail’s. This might mean that you need some time to warm to Hail, especially since she has the tendency to be a bit melodramatic. Further the writing style of this debut novel is ‘a tad bit’ exaggerated, but we soon ignored that the world came crashing down around Hail and that the air was sucked from her lungs, since we were drawn in by the plot enfolding and the secondary characters being more fleshed out. And while we, along with Hail, learned who she can trust and who is nothing more than a two-faced sycophant, Hail also proved that she is a strong ruler who cares for her people.

4/5 Harpy Eagles from the both of us

Love in times of Time Travel

Someone in Time is a short story anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan, publishing date 10 May 2022. All stories centre around the topic of time travel and finding love. As a fan of time travel novels and romance novels, this was right up my alley and I am glad I was approved for an advanced copy. I enjoyed reading about the different time travel devices, all were as diverse as the authors of and protagonists in the stories.

Even time travel can’t unravel love

Time-travel is a way for writers to play with history and imagine different futures – for better, or worse.

When romance is thrown into the mix, time-travel becomes a passionate tool, or heart-breaking weapon. A time agent in the 22nd century puts their whole mission at risk when they fall in love with the wrong person. No matter which part of history a man visits, he cannot not escape his ex. A woman is desperately in love with the time-space continuum, but it doesn’t love her back. As time passes and falls apart, a time-traveller must say goodbye to their soulmate.

With stories from best-selling and award-winning authors such as Seanan McGuire, Alix E. Harrow and Nina Allan, this anthology gives a taste for the rich treasure trove of stories we can imagine with love, loss and reunion across time and space. 

Including stories by: Alix E. Harrow, Zen Cho, Seanan McGuire, Sarah Gailey, Jeffrey Ford, Nina Allan, Elizabeth Hand, Lavanya Lakshminarayan, Catherynne M. Valente, Sam J. Miller, Rowan Coleman, Margo Lanagan, Sameem Siddiqui, Theodora Goss, Carrie Vaughn, Ellen Klages

I particularly liked Zen Cho’s story about an M/M couple that had recently broken up. The MC of the story uses a machine that allows him to experience his past lives. Every time he uses the machine, he meets his former partner. It is soon clear that this person is his soulmate and they belong together, but can he win him back in his own time, his real life?

This collection allowed me to discover and re-discover some of the finest speculative fiction/science fiction/fantasy authors out there. Surprising to me was that I actually liked the short stories from authors that I had read full length novels by before and didn’t like; a second chance romance.

If you are looking for a palate cleanser in between some longer books, pick this up and read a story from it. Actually, I dare you to manage to read just one story at a time. I couldn’t do it, I read the whole book in one sitting.

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Skyward Inn Review

This month’s buddyread Skyward Inn by Aliya Whitely was read much faster by us than initially planned. The other two had it devoured in days and only me, the LadyDuckofDoom, lingered because I recently moved and had to pack a ton of books into a ton of boxes.

The book is supposed to be a retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, which I haven’t read, and probably never will. So I can not tell you anything about the connection between the two books.

What I can tell you about is how the book reminded me some of Ursula LeGuin’s works. Whitely’s work reads much faster than LeGuin’s, but in the end, I got a similiar feeling from Skyward Inn as I got from some books of the Hainish Circle.

The story focuses on one family in the Western Protectorate, a region that has turned its back on technology. The rest of the world seems to be obsessed with trading and slowly colonizing Qita, a planet with sentient life. The path to Qita was mysteriously opened by the so called Kissing Gate. The mother of the family, Jem, runs the Skyward Inn with the only other Quitan, Isley, in the Western Protectorate. Her son Fosse was raised by her brother while she was away, signed up many years to deliver peace messages all over Qita. Telling more would spoil the story.

The unfolding book is as much a family drama as a speculative mystery, the many layers of the story working very well together. Some of us sci-fi nerds can guess the defining key elements the story is working towards, but that does not prevent the enjoyment of it. At a bit over 300 pages, the book is not that long, either. I would recommend some time to think about the ending, though. It would make a lovely pick for a larger bookclub, too.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén